It’s almost 9 pm on Halloween, and we’ve just returned home after a super fun round of Halloween festivities. Well, at least four of us are home now: Jon, G, C and me.
J, our college freshman, is at some big costume party on campus tonight. She went dressed as a Martian.
Here’s a blurry photo of my Martian child and one of her friends that she texted me from the scene earlier tonight.
As for E, he is downtown seeing a movie with a couple of pals, and will be home by 11.
I think that all mothers of more than one child kind of keep sort of an internal GPS running in their heads at all times as we mentally keep track of where each of our offspring are at any given time. We think to ourselves, “Okay, Child A is at her play rehearsal, Child B is up in his room playing around on his computer, and Child C is at soccer practice, and I need to go pick her up at 7 pm.”
And when we think of our children, we think of all of them. So when I do that running kid-tracking commentary in my head, it’s always like, “G and C are at the park with their grandmother, E is at lacrosse practice, and of course J is away at school, but I know she’s in her dorm or in class or something. And Henry, well he’s dead.”
I am the mother of five children, but I only have four to look after any longer. The child who made me a mother in the first place is now gone. But he was my first, and for almost four years before his sister J was born, he was my only. And he was 18 years old when he died, so I had 18 years of thinking of myself as his mother That’s a long time. And what I have discovered is that after almost two decades of being someone’s mama, you can’t just stop thinking of yourself that way, and you can’t just erase him from any mental or verbal accounting of your children. When I think of my children, I think of Henry too. I can’t not do that. Maybe mothers who lose children eventually do stop thinking of their dead child in the same group as their other children; I have no idea if that’s what will happen at some point. But for now, when I think about my kids – who they are, what they are doing, where they are at any given moment – I still include Henry.
Tonight was kind of the first time since Henry died that I spent time with brand new friends whom I assume have no idea that my oldest child died not so long ago. Maybe they know, but I don’t think so. We have become friends – brand new friends with this really awesome couple – because their 6 year old daughter is C’s bestie at the school where both girls are in first grade. And C’s last name is not the same as mine, or Henry’s. So even if our new friends saw the media coverage of his death, they likely wouldn’t associate it with C, or me.
This couple also has an adorable son the exact same age as G, and the two three year olds are also becoming fast friends. After the party and trick or treating tonight, we all went back to their house, which is in the same neighborhood as ours, and hung out some, just watching the kids run around and chatting. Since we are parents, and we are just getting to know one another, it’s natural that a lot of our “getting to know you” conversation is about our kids: their names and ages, where they go to school or preschool, etc. And so I was faced – honestly for the very first time since Henry died- with a social situation where I couldn’t figure out whether to tell these new friends that I actually have five children, but that I lost my oldest.
I didn’t tell them.
I told them about J and how she just turned 18 and is loving her freshman year. I showed them a photo of 15 year old E on my iPhone, and explained that he wasn’t with us tonight because he decided to go see a movie downtown. And of course, C and G were there with us. And in return, they talked about each of their three children. But I never mentioned my oldest son, the one that thus far, I mothered the longest. I basically gave the impression that I have four children, and even as I was really enjoying hanging out with these new friends, whom I really hope to get to know better, I had this painful knot welling up in my chest, as I struggled with whether to tell them that I had a son for 18 years, and that his name was Henry, and he loved playing guitar and his dog, Fiat. And that he was funny and smart and a really amazing writer.
But I didn’t say anything. I left Henry out of my accounting of my children, and who they are, and my recounting of my life as their mother. Several times I almost said something as we talked about parenthood and our kids and our lives in general, but I didn’t. And that felt awful. But I also felt like telling them would make them feel awful – or shocked or upset or something as we sat in their living room watching our children play together.
To tell or not to tell. That is the question. When is it the right time to tell someone with whom you become friends after your child dies that you are really the mother of five children, not four? To explain that your oldest son died when he was 18? I don’t know the answer now, but I guess this is an issue that I really will have to figure out.
But God almighty, do I wish I didn’t have to.
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